Baobab Trees – Tree of Life

Baobab Trees - Tree of Life

Fossil evidence of ancient trees known as baobabs found in Madagascar shows that they are among Earth’s oldest life forms. This genus, known as Adansonia, has eight species in Madagascar, Africa, and northwest Australia. People call them the “upside down trees” because of their shape. The nickname “tree of life” comes from the fact that they can live for thousands of years and grow to huge sizes.

The fruits of baobab trees are a superfood, and people use their trunks to make fibers for rope or clothing. The baobab’s large white flowers open at dusk, attracting bats as pollinators. The branches of the trees are nesting sites for birds. These trees look very different from modern trees. They have a pyramid shape with a large trunk that stores huge amounts of water and no limbs or leaves except at the top. They might remind you of a giant toadstool, but the shape is ideal for storing water and the safety of bats and birds.

DNA studies show a starting point for baobab trees in Madagascar, tracking their journey on ocean currents to Australia and Africa, where local conditions shaped them into what we see today. Scientific data shows no connection between baobabs and gymnosperms like pine trees and modern trees like oaks and palms.

Attention has been drawn to the fact that baobab trees are so useful that they are being overharvested. Genesis 2:9 tells us that “God made all kinds of trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” The diversity we see in creation speaks of an intelligent purpose for plants, and everywhere we look, we see the benefits plants provide. Baobabs remind us that we live in a very special place, and we must not let greed, ignorance, and selfishness destroy what God has given us.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: BBC News for May 15, 2024, and the journal Nature.

Positive Change in Prisoners’ Lives

Positive Change in Prisoners' Lives

Climate change and high temperatures in many places have affected the plight of the two million incarcerated people. Can you imagine being locked into a room with no air conditioning and temperatures above 100 degrees? The question is not whether the prisoners have made a mistake but what we can do to make a positive change in prisoners’ lives and help them become contributing citizens.

The ministry that sponsors this website has an extensive outreach to incarcerated men and women. We currently have 6,000 people who are taking our free apologetics correspondence courses. We offer free materials to prison chaplains for use in education programs in the prisons they serve. One thing that can help the prison situation is education. A large percentage of prisoners are men under 40 who have very low education and work experience. Violent offenses account for 58% of those in prison, but 16% are incarcerated for property offenses, 13% for drug offenses, and the rest for other reasons.

We have three free correspondence courses dealing with evidence for the existence of God. Most of our students tell us what led to their incarceration. They do not attempt to justify their acts, but virtually all of them express a desire to change. The idea that society is protected by keeping them locked up is not accurate because the average time served for violent offenses is four years. Even those in prison for murder serve an average of 15 years. While in prison, many of them learn more ways to commit crimes and end up in gang participation. Imagine the cost to taxpayers to maintain this system while failing to make a positive change in prisoners’ lives.

We want to add our voice to the growing movement calling for prison reform. The present system produces national pain and leads to more violence. We must provide education, support groups, job placement, medical treatment, and humane conditions to change this blight on our culture. Unfortunately, prisons are restricting what we are allowed to do, making it harder for us to offer help toward positive change in prisoners’ lives. Faith in God and the teachings of Christ can change a person. Christ calls everyone to repentance.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

References: The Vera Institute of Justice, the Marshall Project, the Brookings Institute, the U.S. Bureau of Justice, and Kings Crossings Prison Ministries.

Solar Storm on Mars

Solar Storm on Mars

A massive solar storm on Mars occurred on May 20, 2024, shortly after it caused impressive auroras on Earth. This latest storm is part of the normal eleven-year cycle of solar maximums, but it is the first time such a storm has occurred while astronomers have the equipment to record its effect.

Xrays and gamma rays, which travel at the speed of light, reached Mars first and were followed minutes later by charged particles. According to NASA, the Curiosity rover at Gale Crater near the Martian equator took pictures showing white streaks resembling snow but were actually charged particles. The radiation from the solar particles was so intense that the star camera aboard the Mars Odyssey orbiter temporarily shut down.

Curiosity rover’s measurements of the radiation reaching Mars’ surface show that an astronaut standing next to the detector would get radiation equal to 30 chest X-rays. Earth has a strong magnetic field to shield it from energized solar particles, but Mars does not. At the same time, the thin Martian atmosphere could not give protection from the solar storm on Mars.

Planets with a functional atmosphere and located in the Goldilocks Zone, where liquid water on the surface is possible, are rare. All stars go through cycles that pose threats to life on their orbital planets. Mars, a potential target for human visitation and a place where people speculated that life might exist, has received significant attention. This new data from a common solar event suggests that conditions for life to exist are even more challenging than previously thought.

The message of the solar storm on Mars and discoveries like this is important. They tell us that Earth’s creation and the life on it are the product of intelligence and design, not opportunistic chance. They also tell us we must take care of the Earth because, in reality, there is no other place to go if we mess up this planet.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: CNN Reports on Space Science for June 14, 2024.

Human Failures of People Who Claim Christianity

Human Failures of People Who Claim Christianity

This ministry is not affiliated with any denomination of Christianity nor with the Catholic Church. Unchristian actions and teachings of people who claim to be Christians have often catalyzed the growth of atheism and “nones” in America. Our ministry is made up of those who refuse to be part of all human creeds and denominations and rely 100% on the teachings of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible. We focus on evidence for God’s existence and the Bible as the Word of God, not on the human failures of people who claim Christianity.

On July 5, 2024, the Vatican announced the excommunication of Italian archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano for refusing to recognize the authority of Pope Francis. Vigano was the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States from 2011 to 2016. He said that the Pope was a servant of Satan for overlooking corruption in the Catholic Church, such as pedophilia. Getting involved in organized religion’s controversies is not within our work’s mission. Still, the history of Catholicism and the cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy shows the human failures of people who claim Christianity but don’t follow the authority of God’s Word.

Atheists, skeptics, and people struggling with their faith need to understand that the human failures of people who claim Christianity have nothing to do with the truth of the Bible. The evidence for God’s existence is vast, and the evidence for the credibility of the Bible is strong. Our videos on doesgodexist.tv demonstrate that evidence. Our free courses on evidence and booklets giving answers to faith challenges are available to anyone disturbed by the hypocrisy and inconsistency of organized religion.

That doesn’t mean we have all the answers. We are just a group of Christians struggling with today’s challenges and trying to serve God. We believe the words of 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the person who belongs to God can be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Please join us in reaching a corrupt and chaotic world with the message of hope.

Reference: The Week magazine for July 19, 2024, page 8, and BBC.com

The Issue of Book Banning

The Issue of Book Banning

An issue of concern to Christians is the banning of certain books in public school libraries. This is a complicated problem with many issues. Part of the debate is over what is appropriate for each child’s age. Books about the Holocaust are in a different realm than books that depict or describe sexual acts. Books that promote LGBTQ lifestyles and attack Christianity cause concerns among Christian parents. The issue of book banning has been in the news recently.

In the 2023-2024 school year, Florida banned 3,135 book titles. Wisconsin banned 481, and Iowa is debating banning a total of 3300 titles, with various school systems concerned about different books. We are frustrated by the inconsistency of this situation. Our materials are not doctrinal but simply offer evidence for God’s existence and the Bible’s validity. However, they have been banned in some cases because we promote a religious viewpoint. Most frustrating is that the same school systems that refuse to allow our books in their libraries would allow books by atheists attacking Christianity. DVDs dramatizing the Crusades are allowed in virtually all school systems. At the same time, DVDs showing the good works done by Christians, such as bringing hospitals and schools into areas lacking them, are not allowed.

The issue of book banning is complex because special interest groups react to almost every issue discussed in a book. Should all books that espouse a philosophy of any kind be banned? Should novels be excluded from all public schools? Can we expect librarians to know all the content of every book, and do librarians’ beliefs affect what books are banned? As a public school teacher for 41 years, I can tell you that almost everyone involved in the issue of book banning doesn’t understand how high school students use a library.

It’s crucial for Christians to understand that the Church should be the primary source of solid materials on faith and morality, rather than relying on public schools. School libraries should be places where factual material is readily available, without promoting specific philosophies or moralities, and not just for entertainment.

With politicians unable to answer questions of moral conduct and values, it is no surprise that school libraries have a difficult role to play. The Church needs to fill at least part of the gap by teaching and providing information like Jesus did. The Does God Exist? ministry is an attempt to help achieve that objective.

Data from USA TODAY NETWORK for June 16, 2024

Trout Fins Are Designed for Efficient Swimming

Trout Fins Are Designed for Efficient Swimming
Rainbow Trout

Technology has allowed us to see the design of things in the natural world. Dr. Haibo Dong at the University of Virginia has used 3D computer models to study the turbulence created with each fin of a trout. American Scientist magazine states, “Interactions between swirling eddies created by a swimming trout show how its body is optimally laid out for energy-efficient movement.” Trout fins are designed for efficient swimming.

A trout’s body is shaped to swim through the water with less drag than any other shape. However, the role of various fins is not easy to see. Virtually all fish have a dorsal fin on the back and a caudal fin on the tail. Trout have other fins, including pectoral fins near their heads and pelvic fins near the center of their bellies. Toward the back of the trout’s body is a small adipose fin on top and an anal fin on the underside. The researchers have shown that the fin locations increase the thrust the tail produces. The anal fin produces 8.6% more thrust reducing the drag by 18.6%. Trout fins are designed for efficient swimming, or as the researchers conclude, “the whole trout is optimized for efficient swimming.”

Other fish have different fin arrangements to match their survival needs. A tuna living in the open ocean has a different layout of fins because it is designed for speed rather than efficiency. Fish that confine their existence to the bottom of a lake or river will not have the same fin layout as the tuna or the trout. For example, catfish have a fin arrangement designed for protection. Those of us who have grabbed a catfish incorrectly may have suffered a painful jab from its fins. Trout fins are designed for efficient swimming since they make long migrations, swimming upstream and sometimes over waterfalls.

Our technology allows us to understand the various designs seen in living things. Trout fishermen know that catching a trout differs from catching any other fish because of their mobility and muscular nature. Research has shown that the trout’s design shows wisdom right down to the shape and location of its fins. We suggest that this design is the product of a Designer, not just blind opportunistic chance. Genesis 1:21 tells us, “God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems..” Thanks to technology, we understand how over-simplified that statement is.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Fins Working Together” in American Scientist magazine for July-August 2024, pages 204-206.

The Rod of Correction Is not Beating

The Rod of Correction not Beating

A skeptic challenged us concerning God’s inspiration of the Bible by quoting Old Testament references to using a “rod” to discipline a child. In our day of child abuse, psychological dissertations claim that spanking is destructive and the “rod of correction” is barbaric. Skeptics claim that it shows the Bible is not from God but is a reflection of human ignorance.

Proverbs indeed refers to using a “rod of correction” to teach a child. (See Proverbs 13:24, 23:13, and 29:15.) Like any question of biblical teaching, we should study the passage in the original language and look at who wrote it, why they wrote it, to whom they wrote it, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. People who take the King James translation to justify beating a child are not doing that.

Four Hebrew words are translated as “rod” in the Bible. The Hebrew words that refer to a weapon or tool are “mattah,” “choter (Proverbs 14:3),” and “maqqel (Jeremiah 1:11 and 48:17).” The word used in Proverbs is “shebet” which can be translated “scepter.” The lexicon says that word refers to a system of discipline. The word used to describe a weapon is “mattah.” In Exodus 4 and 7, Moses used a “rod” (“mattah”) in his exchange with the Pharaoh.

The bottom line is that the ancient Hebrews would have understood that the rod of correction in Proverbs is like an orchestra leader’s baton. It produces discipline but is not a weapon. All of the passages in Proverbs deal with offering guidance or discipline to a child, not to beating a child.

The finishing touch to this discussion is what Jesus taught and what the Christian system presents as the role of parents. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The Christian system of a nuclear family is a far cry from a culture in which a woman’s worth was determined by how many children she produced, and a man was a dictator.

Taking the Bible literally does not mean lifting a passage out of context and applying it to modern situations. The biblical instructions are full of compassion, empathy, and love—and they work. In today’s world, many children are raised by hired workers such as daycares, academies, or nannies. Gangs and cults also raise many children. Some kids turn out well despite these situations, but not because of them.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Life Is Hard, but There Is Hope

Life Is Hard, but There Is Hope

Life is hard. I doubt that anyone would argue with that. Jesus knew about this and spoke of it. In Matthew 24:4-9, Jesus told his disciples, “Watch out that no one deceives you … you will hear of wars and rumors of wars… nation will rise against nation … There will be famines and earthquakes … you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me…” He goes on to say that scammers will be present, and the love of many will grow cold. Non-Christians will view those words of Jesus as a reason to reject Christianity.

Many of today’s issues are rooted in the fact that life is hard. Life challenges lead to euthanasia, prostitution, drug use, alcoholism, and a large percentage of mental illnesses. The most fundamental reason for this dilemma is that there is no purpose in living for those who reject the teachings of Christ and the Bible.

Beginning in the book of Genesis, the Bible presents the theme that a war is going on between good and evil. It starts in the Garden of Eden and is portrayed in the Book of Job. The New Testament clearly defines the conflict. Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against … the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms.” Ephesians 3:9-12 explains the purpose of the Church in this war. Atheism dodges the issue of evil by simply denying that it exists, but reality says otherwise.

Yes, life is hard, but for Christians, life is the worst thing you will ever have to face. Romans 8:28 tells us that God will take the awful things in life and make good things come from them. Sometimes, those good things are spiritual, which is what life is about. Don’t defeat the purpose of your existence by denying the reality of the spiritual warfare in life.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

The Futility Of Atheism

The Futility Of Atheism

One of our co-workers, Douglas Jacobi, is far more educated and articulate than I am and works with atheists and skeptics daily. We have reviewed his books and worked with him in various settings over the years. Douglas presented an interesting set of quotes from atheists and believers about the futility of atheism. I would encourage you to think about the implications of these statements:

ATHEISTS-
Julian Barnes
– “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.” Many atheists grew up in a home whose parents tried to instill faith in them but failed. Barnes points out that the existence of a standard for morality that works and a guide that gives purpose to life is missing from the belief system of an atheist.

Thomas Nagel – “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers … I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” The idea that intelligent people are atheists and religious people are not is a bogus belief. See the “Scientists and God” section of our quarterly journal.

BELIEVERS-
G.K. Chesterton
– “If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” This was tried in Liberal Mo, where all religious beliefs were forced out of the city. The city collapsed in less than three years, and the leading promoters of the godless city stated that he never wanted to live in a town with no churches again. Immorality and selfish abuse ruled, and the atheists left town.

Os Guinness—Many of the Church’s defectors are not atheists or even agnostics but in limbo between the characteristic halfway houses of “believing without belonging” or still “belonging without believing.” The Church is not immune to human weakness, but letting human failures drive you away is no answer to hypocrisy.

ATHEIST EPITAPH –
“Here lies an atheist: all dressed up and no place to go.” The futility of atheism is because, for an atheist, there is no purpose in living and no hope when he dies.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: DouglasJacoby.com

Genetics Dictate Biological Gender

Genetics Dictate Biological Gender

A significant issue in America today is what to do with young people who have decided to change their gender. Without getting into the theological issues, the scientific fact is that a person’s genetics dictate biological gender. Men and women are biologically different.

One of several demonstrations I used in my physics class was to have a boy and a girl stand with their heels against the wall and lean over to pick up something. Another demonstration is to have a man and woman of equal height kneel with their head in their hands and then put their hands behind their backs. Women can do that easily, while a man will fall on his face. This is due to the anatomical makeup of women compared to men. A woman’s pelvis is typically larger than a man’s pelvis. Thus, women tend to have a lower center of gravity. The position of the center of gravity in women is 55% of the total height, while in men it is 57%. Women’s center of gravity is vertically lower than men’s because their bodies are larger in the pelvis, but their shoulders are narrower.

The point of this is that genetics dictate biological gender. Changing your gender does not change the anatomical makeup given to you at birth. In practical terms, what does that mean for young people today?

1) In athletics, the birth gender will dictate the competence in certain sports. You won’t see trans males playing in the NBA. In swimming and track, there will be striking differences in performance with trans females who have a male body.
2) The long-term effect of hormones used to maintain a gender change is unknown, but most medical experts say it will not last for more than a decade, if that. The probability that a trans person will have a shortened life expectancy is very high.
3) Surgical procedures to accommodate trans changes cannot be reversed.
4) Some will use the whole trans agenda to take advantage of others. Allowing a transgender student to use bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice is going to lead to abuse by typical non-trans teenage students. Boys who want to go into a girl’s restroom and ogle females can do so by simply declaring they are trans.
5) Private colleges will not be able to have dormitories that are only for one sex. This is a massive problem with conservative Christian colleges who, for religious reasons, wish to remain able to offer boys’ dorms and girls’ dorms free of the opposing gender.

A U.S. appeals court rejected the Biden administration’s effort to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms and join sports teams that align with their chosen gender. The Biden administration was trying to protect the rights of LGBTQ students, but the question is whether they were violating the rights of non-LGBTQ students.

Genetics dictate biological gender. We suggest that from a Christian apologetics standpoint, the result will be catastrophic whenever humans try to change God’s plan and design for anything. This is just one more example of that.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Biden administration loses bid to revive legal protections for LGBTQ students” by Daniel Wiessner on Reuters news service (June 14, 2024).